The Bells of Old Bailey

"Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go,
And still have the feeling that you wanted to stay?
You know it was right, wasn't wrong,
Still you knew you wouldn't be very long.
It's tough to have the feeling that you wanted to go,
And still have the feeling that you wanted to stay.
Start to go!
Change your mind!
Start to go again but change your mind again!
It's tough to have the feeling that you wanted to go,
Still have the feeling that you wanted to stay,
Do re mi far so la ti do,
I go...!"
Good old Jimmy Durante couldn't have said it better - this is exactly how we felt about our lunch time jaunt today (although I'm not sure Deborah would have put it quite the same way, but Deborah can express herself when it's her turn).  It was pouring with rain.  The sort of rain that comes down horizontally, whips up underneath your umbrella, makes your mascara run and soaks you to the skin.  It was windy.  And generally grey, drizzly and very uninviting.  From the 24th floor of our building, the outlook was ominous.  But nevertheless, we rallied round, energised ourselves and gave each other a pep talk to proceed with the outing regardless.  We set off prepared for the worst, suited, booted and umbrella'd up.  Thankfully, the driving rain suddenly held itself back as we left, so we were able to skip along quite merrily for a while. 

Taking full advantage of the hold in the weather, we began today's adventure by tracing our footsteps from a couple of weeks back to Postman's Park, off Aldersgate Street, but this time hurried through the park without stopping to admire the pond, the carp, the duck, the memorial, anything.  We were heading in the direction of Newgate Street.  As usual, on the way to our first item of interest we stumbled across others.  We passed the Viaduct Tavern, actually one of our to-dos, but will save the details for when we do actually visit.  We passed by the Old Bailey, an impressive building.  The Old Bailey, also known as Justice Hall, the Sessions House, and the Central Criminal Court, was named after the street in which it was located, just off Newgate Street and next to Newgate Prison, in the western part of the City of London. Over the centuries the building has been periodically remodelled and rebuilt.  However, we passed the Old Bailey by for now, intent on seeing our somewhat smaller attraction.

As we approached the corner of Giltspur Street, we spied the small attraction from across the street dug into the railings of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate church.  London's first ever drinking fountain.

Built by the wonderfully named Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in 1859, the history of this little drinking fountain illustrates how dirty and diseased the water supply once was in London. In fact, by the mid-19th century the water was so polluted that beer was being used as a safer alternative!  The reason for the dirty water was a combination of rapid population growth in the 18th and 19th century, along with under regulated water supply companies. This culminated in a series of cholera outbreaks during the early 19th century, with the Metropolis Water Act being brought in during 1852 in an attempt to improve the dismal water quality in London. In its own words, it made a “provision for securing the supply to London of pure and wholesome water”. This radical piece of legislation made it illegal for water supply companies to obtain domestic water supply from the tidal Thames, notably because this was where the sewage companies often disposed of their untreated waste! Other solutions were to make water filtration compulsory, as well as building a new network of sewers to reduce the need for dumping raw waste into the River Thames.
A depiction of the grand opening of the First Drinking Fountain, although we think the size of the fountain is grossly exaggerated here!

The fountain still retains two cups on a chain!  Hygiene and cross-contamination obviously not an issue in those days!

It was around this time that the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was formed. Its two founding members, Samuel Gurney MP and Edward Wakefield, were both keen philanthropists and started the society in 1859. It was to be, in their own words, “The only agency for providing free supplies of water for man and beast in the streets of London”.  This first (surprisingly little) fountain was built in 1859 to great fanfare, and at its peak was being used by around 7000 people a day, unbelievable! In fact, the only interruption to the fountain’s service during its 150 year history was during the construction of the Holborn Viaduct during which time it was temporarily relocated.  Due to the immense popularity of the fountain, the society built an additional 85 water fountains over the next 6 years. A great deal of these fountains can still be found to this day, including the cattle troughs that were constructed in collaboration with the RSPCA.  Myself and Deborah have seen quite a few of these wonderful cattle troughs about the place (see the Postman's Park excursion for instance).  These were especially important around the live cattle market of Smithfield, where horses, dogs and cattle had often been brought from the surrounding counties (we were headed in that direction next). These water troughs became so important that their locations began to be built into maps, and the Victorians often referred to them as filling stations.  The society still exists today, albeit under the less grandiose name of the Drinking Fountain Association. It is still involved in building new drinking fountains, as well as restoring and maintaining the existing infrastructure.

After admiring the little cups on the chains for some time, we decided to take a peek in the famous St Sepulchre-without-Newgate church, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is located on Holborn Viaduct, almost opposite the Old Bailey. In medieval times it stood just outside ("without") the now-demolished old city wall, near the Newgate.
St. Sepulchre is one of the 'Cockney Bells' of London from the rhyme 'Oranges & Lemons'
"When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey!"

During the reign of Mary I in 1555, St. Sepulchre's vicar, John Rogers, was burned as a heretic (he worked with William Tyndale to translate the bible into English and was put to death for 'heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the real presence in the sacrament. He awaited and met death cheerfully, though he was even denied a meeting with his wife. He was  burned at the stake on February 4, 1555 at Smithfield. Noailles, the French ambassador, speaks of the support given to Rogers by the greatest part of the people: "even his children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding."'
Woodcut showing the execution of John Rogers at Smithfield, London in 1555 (published 1684)
List of vicars to have served the church - you can see John Rogers' name on the left ('deprived' of his life and services)

Another interesting fact, St. Sepulchre is one of the "Cockney bells" of London, named in the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons' as the "bells of Old Bailey". Traditionally, the great bell would be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows at Newgate. The clerk of St Sepulchre's was also responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned man's cell in Newgate Prison to inform him of his impending execution. This handbell, known as the Execution Bell, now resides in a glass case to the south of the nave.

I'm a little worried about myself and Deborah. Our excitement levels seem to go up a notch or two when we find something macabre....  We were so excited to find the Execution Bell!


The Execution Bell was well worn and had obviously had some rigorous ringing in its time.  The inscription under the bell reads: "This bell was rung outside the condemned cell at Newgate by the bellman at St. Sepulchre at midnight on the eve of an execution, he then recited the following verses:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die
Watch all and pray; the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear
Examine well yourselves; in time repent
That you may not to eternal flames be sent
And when St. Sepulchre's bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your souls
PAST 12 O'CLOCK"

Grizzly!  We couldn't help but feel a tad sorry for the prisoners being woken with such a message of doom on their last night!
Other items of interest within the church:
On the south wall is a relic of the 1450 church, a Piscina for rinsing communion vessels.
This appears to be darkened by fire and is thought to still bear the traces of the Great Fire of London in 1666

The remains of an Easter Sepulchre

We emerged into daylight and walked due North up Giltspur Street, cursing slightly at the rain which had started to fall quite heavily.  We passed by the old Watch House:


This watch house was built overlooking the churchyard of St Sepulchre’s in the 17th century. The only legal source of bodies for medical study was those of executed murderers. Grave robbers supplied a need for the nearby St Bart's - England’s oldest surviving hospital - and families would pay for fresh corpses to be watched over.  Macabre!

We walked briskly, giving up on the umbrellas due to the fact we were already soaked through and came across the Golden Boy further up Giltspur Street, on the corner of Cock Lane.


The Golden Boy was erected to mark the point where the Great Fire of London was finally extinguished.  The purposefully tubby little figure was formerly winged and had the inscription on the breast and arms "This boy is in memory put up for the late Fire of London occasioned by The Sin of Gluttony, 1666". It is Grade II Listed. The fire began at Pudding Lane and ended at Pye Corner. So, the, er, logical conclusion to be drawn was that the fire was a sign of God's displeasure for gluttony...
An inscription below the Golden Boy

Soaked to the skin, we headed north in search of the last destination of the day.  Smithfield Garden.  On the way, we saw yet another drinking trough, nicely decorated with red tulips...


Now you'd never guess to look at this pretty little garden, but the site was originally part of the 'Smoothfield' outside the City walls where jousts, executions and markets were held in the C14th and C15th. Although the gallows were moved to Tyburn in the C15th Smithfield continued to be used for executing religious martyrs and more than 200 Protestants were burnt at the stake during Queen Mary's reign. A livestock market was held here from 1638 until it transferred to Caledonian Market in Islington in 1855 and St Bartholomew's Fair was an annual event until 1855, after which the site was closed as a public meeting place. Waste ground for a time, the site was finally laid out as public gardens by the Corporation of London and opened to the public in 1872. A drinking fountain with a bronze figure representing 'Peace' was erected in 1873, see photo below. Geometric sculptural seating was installed in the garden in C21st, with inscriptions relating to the history of the area.



William Wallace was famously executed on the site. Following his trial, on 23 August 1305, Wallace was stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging but released while he was still alive, castrated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a spike atop London Bridge.

This plaque stands in a wall of St. Bartholomew's Hospital near the site of his execution 

By this time we were soaked and needed to head back to the office pronto.  It had been a rather grizzly and macabre adventure, but fun and extremely interesting at the same time. 

Join us for the next lunch break (less gruesome we promise!).

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